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    Astronomy blog

    2009 Leonids; A WISE Decision

    By travel
    11/12/2009, 7:04:03 AM

    Hello, astro-nuts!

    I can't believe we're almost halfway through November already! Yesterday was Veteran's Day and I hope you remembered to thank any veterans you know (or even those you may not know) for their service. Yesterday was also Wednesday so there is a new astronomy video that talks a bit about the upcoming Leonid Meteor Shower. I'll have some more information about that today. I'll also be talking about the upcoming shuttle mission, and the launch of WISE.

    Check This Out!

    STS-129 is now scheduled for launch on Monday, November 16th at 2:28pm Eastern time. The space shuttle Atlantis and her six crew members will be heading to the International Space Station to deliver gyroscopes, Express Logistics modules and additional equipment. Repair tools and hardware will be stored on platforms that will be installed on the station's truss for use after the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010. This work will be done over three planned spacewalks. STS-129 will also mark the last time the shuttle will be used to transport a station crew member back to Earth. Nicole Stott, who first arrived at the station a few months ago, will be hitching a ride home with the Atlantis crew. Atlantis was last launched back in May for the final Hubble repair mission, for which I had the pleasure of visiting Kennedy Space Center :). Including this mission, there are now six remaining before the fleet retires.


    Atlantis awaits launch-NASA

    As you may know, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. In celebration of that, Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra were used to create a gorgeous image of the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Hubble provided the visible light view (yellowareas), Spitzer infrared (red), and Chandra X-ray (blue and violet).

    National Geographic Channel fans won't want to miss the lineup all next week. Expedition Week features seven nights of specials and documentaries about various topics that take you from the Amazon Rainforest to Mars and even the depths of the ocean. Check out the Expedition Week website for the schedule on these not-to-miss specials. Astro-nuts, you'll want to tune in Thursday the 19th for Mars: Making the New Earth, which discusses turning the currently uninhabitable Red Planet into a place where people can call home.


    The Leonid sky show is coming up soon, but before that, don't forget that the Taurids have reached their peak and can still be seen tonight,November 12th. There won't be very many, but what will be seen are mostly fireballs, so if you have clear skies, don't miss it! Look in the general direction of Taurus the Bull. Meanwhile, the morning of the 17th, the Leonid Meteor Shower reaches its peak. No need to worry about the Moon this year, it will be new on the 16th and will not interfere with your viewing. In the Americas, you could expect as many as 25-30 meteors per hour, perhaps more if you are in a dark location and can see some of the dimmer meteors. Asia is the place to be for this one, however, as more than 200 meteors per hour could be expected! This may remind some of the "meteor storms" from 1999-2002 when the Leonids were much more impressive in this part of the world. This was thought to happen every 33 years or so as comet Tempel-Tuttle moves through the inner solar system and leaves a trail of debris in Earth's path. However, we get the Leonids every year because of the leftovers. This year, Earth passes through a more dense stream of particles from the comet which will result in an increased number of meteors. Asia will happen to pass through the best part, however. Over North America at around 4am Eastern time on the 17th will be the best time to view the shower. In Asia, that time will come close to dawn on the 18th local time (about 4pm eastern time) when Earth passes through a PAIR of old streams from the comet left in 1466 and 1533AD. This is when hundreds of meteors could be possible in that area. However, it might be worth checking out the skies of North America late on the 17th/early on the 18th to see if any leftover debris brings us more treats. By coincidence, Mars will be close to the Leonid radiant this year, so it may appear that meteors are shooting out of Mars (but they are not, so please do not panic!). It will certainly make for some great pictures, so grab your cameras! As always, be sure to post them to the AccuWeather.com Gallery!


    Radiant area for the 2009 Leonids; looking east, 4am November 17th-Starry Night/Main Sequence
    Back in 2006, NASA engineers began developing ideas for an infrared telescopes that would give them a new view of the brightest galaxies and close star-like objects. Three years later, the vision has been made into a reality; enter the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The nearly completed telescope arrived at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California back in August of this year and is expected to be launched on December 7th aboard an Alliance Delta 2 Rocket. The telescope will be sent into orbit around Earth and, much like the Spitzer and Herschel Missions, will be giving us a view of objects at the infrared wavelengths. The difference is, WISE will be scanning the ENTIRE sky; the purpose is to try to catch a glimpse of things we have not or cannot see. Some of the most important targets will be finding asteroids and near-Earth objects. Given the past few close and missed asteroid calls, WISE is already proving to be a "wise" decision (I had to...sorry). WISE will also be used to find elusive brown dwarf stars, the coolest and smallest of the stars. Optimistic scientists wonder if the mission will uncover one closer than Proxima Centauri 4 light-years away. WISE also has the ability to find areas of star formation, planetary disks, and bright, distant galaxies. Surveying the entire sky will also produce numerous images of objects or areas of the sky that may be viewed by other observatories at a later time. Prior to launch, WISE and its science instruments are being chilled in order to prevent the telescope from picking up its own infrared heat. A cryostat surrounding the telescope and its instruments is filled with frozen hydrogen. This will evaporate over a ten-month period, giving WISE the chance to scan the entire sky 1.5 times. Liquid helium will be pumped in to mix with the hydrogen, chilling it until it freezes. A temperature of -447 degrees Fahrenheit will be reached at the coldest point of the process. (This is only slightly above Absolute Zero...)


    WISE surrounded by scaffolding during the hydrogen cooling process-NASA

    Keep your eyes to the sky and enjoy the view! ~Lisa C. AccuWeather.com Astronomy Center

    The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com


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